RADICALLY PERSONAL S1 E8
Driving Revenue Through the Contact Center in Today’s Digital World
What happens when you, and the rest of the world, are forced to shut the doors to all your retail shops with a day’s notice? According to Kate Showalter, Senior Director of Customer Service at Crate & Barrel Holdings, “when you take away what you have deemed impossible, you realize what you can really do.”
In this episode, my conversation with Kate spanned across tons of interesting and though-provoking topics—from turning your contact center into a revenue center, customer service innovation and most notably, how COVID-19 has impacted their business and accelerated their digital transformation.
We believe that if you focus really strongly on the top three pillars, if you really focus on the customer, and the associate, and the brand, that the financial strength pillar will take care of itself.
Joseph: Welcome to Radically Personal, where we explore the behind-the-scenes stories of today’s most beloved brands—how they started, what their mission is—and how they’re building enduring relationships with customers and showing them how they have their best interests at heart.
I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly where we’re on a mission to help companies reinvent customer service and deliver on the promise of radically personal customer experiences.
Joseph: On today’s episode, I am joined my good friend Kate Showalter– Senior Director of Customer Service and Strategic PMO at Crate and Barrel.
Joseph: Kate shares how COVID-19 has impacted their business, forcing them to bring their amazing in-store experiences that they are known for online and how they are at the forefront of turning their contact center into a revenue center.
Kate: We believe that if you focus really strongly on the top three pillars, if you really focus on the customer, and the associate, and the brand, that the financial strength pillar will take care of itself.
Joseph: We also discuss innovation and what it means to be a ‘shopkeeper at heart’.
Kate: It’s presented every day and especially when you’re used to running a store, you want that day-to-day, you want that personal interaction with the customer that the line of people waiting is actually literally a line of people waiting and staring at you, and you’re looking up at their eyes and thinking, “Why aren’t I going faster?”
Joseph: And we talk about who inspired Kate to have the customer awareness and appetite for innovation she has today.
Kate: “He was an inspirational presence. You don’t work for a man like that and not carry some of that urgency, and that customer awareness, and that entrepreneurial spirit with you.”
Joseph: And what would a Covid podcast be like without the chance to meet Duke, her half-lab half- Great Pyrenees dog who makes a cameo throughout the show.
Joseph: This is Radically Personal.
Joseph: Kate, welcome to Radically Personal. I am so excited to have our conversation today and talk about your story, talk about the Crate and Barrel story. You have just been such a great partner in terms of how you think about customer experience, and I’m super excited to share a whole bunch of stories with our listeners, so welcome.
Kate: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I’m super excited to be here. I would send that right back to you that you guys have been great partners as well, so I’m happy to have the conversation and excited to get started.
Joseph: Why don’t we start? You obviously lead the customer service team at Crate and Barrel, but maybe just a little bit about you to start with would be great for our listeners.
Kate: Sure. I’ve been with Crate a long time, over 20 years.
Joseph: You started when you were 12.
Kate: I was. I was 12. That’s the story. I’m sticking to it. [laughs] I won’t correct that, but I’ve had a lot of careers in my time here. I like to say I’m a shopkeeper at heart. I started in the stores and with the store teams, ended up in store leadership and regional leadership. Then I ran a whole bunch of large-scale projects for the organization where we restructured org structures and processes and business process design, and I ended up leading a lot of those and ultimately was asked to go and start our international franchising group.
I ran international operations for a while, got to open stores in 10 different countries. It was really amazing, built some websites there which was fun, and then about three or four years ago they asked me to form what’s called a PMO, a program management office to do all the large-scale strategic initiatives for the organization. Then just over two years ago, they asked if I would also take on customer service.
It’s an interesting mix. Not a lot of places have the same person run customer services run the PMO, but it works for us, and it’s especially great because a large number of our strategic initiatives focus on customer experience, we’re very customer centric, so it is nice to have the direct day-to-day influence of what the customer is asking us for and turn that around and drive strategic change within the organization.
Joseph: That’s great. Let’s start. You started by calling yourself a shopkeeper at heart.
Joseph: I just love that concept of thinking about the shopkeeper, going into the stories of, I used to always tell when we first started the company was this idea that we wanted to help large companies deliver on that local shopkeeper experience. When you walk in, they know who you are, whether it’s your local coffee shop or whatever, and they’re like “Hey Joseph, welcome back. Do you want your latte with almond milk or whatever?” I actually just drink regular coffee. I don’t drink any of those fancy drinks.
Kate: You don’t drink fancy coffee?
Joseph: No, just regular coffee and some milk. I’m a pretty simple guy. Anyway, what about that thought process of a shopkeeper informs your thinking around customer support and running a customer experience team?
Kate: Well, it’s presented every day and especially when you’re used to running a store, you want that day-to-day, you want that personal interaction with the customer that the line of people waiting is actually literally a line of people waiting and staring at you, and you’re looking up at their eyes and thinking, “Why aren’t I going faster? How do I get to that person in line that obviously is getting more and more frustrated with me?” Or you get to hear the feedback firsthand. I once had a woman bring me– We helped her pick out lasagna dishes for a dinner party she was having, and the next day she brought me a lasagna in the pan-
Joseph: Wow, oh, that’s such a great story. That’s gratitude.
Kate: I got to share with everybody in the stockroom that day, all because we had had this amazing conversation about her dinner party, and because she had felt that we had realized a successful event for her. I think that carries over that it’s about the people, and the connection, and the interaction, that you’re using technology, and tools, and metrics to measure that, but those things aren’t what it’s about, what it’s about, is that interaction.
You’re there to drive sales, and you drive sales by building experiences, and that carries through into customer service, and into what we’re trying to do day in, and day out.
Joseph: This thing about what matters, is also a really important topic. Most contact centers, I shouldn’t say most, many. That was one of the things when we started the company, was we had these conversations, and people were like, “Look, it’s all about handle time, and operating efficiency,” and those things matter, I’m not saying they don’t. I’m really proud that we help people be more efficient. How are you going through this change around moving from thinking about the support team as a cost center, to a revenue center?
What do measure? How do you explain that to people? How do you talk to the execs in the company about it, yes?
Kate: Well, it’s hard because you have a budget that you have to reach, right? There is a bottom line, and you have to think about that bottom line, and you have to think about how you get there. For us, it’s about hierarchical pillars, and what we focus on. We’re focused on customer experience first, therefore the metrics around quality of exchange, and quality of interaction, and degree of customer satisfaction, become then your most important metric.
The other metrics around efficiency are measured by how efficient you are in the view of the customer. The customer determines your quality. What the customer wants from you, and the customer expectations, really sets that definition of success for you.
Second to the customer experiences, the associate experience, and the brand experience, and then finally, financial strength is the fourth pillar of our hierarchy there. We believe that if you focus really strongly on the top three pillars, if you really focus on the customer, and the associate, and the brand, that the financial strength pillar will take care of itself. You really have to make sure that metrics –
Joseph: The book, The Score Will Take Care of Itself, if you do all the right stuff, the result you want will come at the end.
Kate: Will come at the end. We feel like if you measure and put forward the right metrics, the rest will fall into place.
Joseph: That’s great. By the way, we are totally cool with the fact that the dog–
Kate: Oh my God, my dog is-
Joseph: Whose dog is it?
Kate: -driving me crazy [laughs].
Joseph: This is COVID podcasting. We had a kid come in on one, it’s all good, it’s great.
Kate: No one’s home to yell at that dog that down there driving me crazy.
Joseph: It wants a little attention. You told this, there’s the metrics. I always think about things in right brain, and left brain. I can’t remember which was which, I just know that both are really important [laughs].
Kate: I was just thinking, I don’t think I know either [laughs], but they are both an important balance, yes.
Joseph: There’s the numbers, and the quantitative side, and then there’s the emotional side. You told the story once, I don’t know if you remember, which was about one of your associates on your team who had started a chat conversation, and then moved to a call with a customer, and they were on for half an hour.
Kate: Oh, yes.
Joseph: They were stressed that they were going to get in trouble by it because they were thinking, “Oh my God, I’ve got to do this in seven minutes and 17 seconds, otherwise I’m in trouble.” How do go through the cultural shift, and what was that story like, and how did you–?
Kate: Yes, it’s a great story. It actually comes right after some of the COVID changes, when people were shopping differently, and they couldn’t go to the stores as much. We had an associate who started on chat, and the chat was getting long and extreme, and she said to the customer, “Can I just call you?” The customer’s like, “Oh, you can call me? Yes, call me.”
Joseph: Isn’t that amazing?
Kate: Yes. She called her, and they literally sat, I think it was 28 minutes, once the phone call started, after the chat was complete. While this woman shopped online, she was having a glass of wine on her sofa, they were looking at different wine glasses, they were looking at different sofas then they changed categories altogether and looked at bedding. It was like she was shopping with a friend. She did end up making a purchase of wine glasses, but the associate was chatting her supervisor like, “Is this okay? I’ve been on the phone for– Can I keep talking?” The supervisor was like, “Oh my God, yes, this is amazing. Tell me more.”
In my tenure as the leader of CS, we’ve never measured handle time. I don’t believe in measuring handle time. I think we measure it for budgetary purposes, to understand how to staff and forecast for staffing and things like that, what our averages are so that we know them, but we don’t call handle time out to our associates because we don’t want them to feel like, “I have to hurry and get to the next customer. If this customer needs me, this is what they need me to do, that’s what I’m going to do with them.”
I think what was so interesting there is it gave us the idea, that transaction gave us the idea as sales as service, that in helping her choose wine glasses and shopping, you’re actually serving her needs.
When we pivoted there as a direction for our associates to learn to sell, that you’re listening to the customer and responding and anticipating their needs in the same way you do in a service mindset, that sales became more natural.
Although we’re now measuring it, we haven’t started to measure associate sales performance in a way that they can see. We talk about it, we talk about how much did you make, what was that sale and what did you get, but we’re not yet metricing it that way because we don’t want that to feel like a burden of the conversation. We still want that conversation to be around what the customer is asking us for and that kind of service mindset.
Joseph: Right. There are the individual stories like that, which are obviously learning training opportunities. How do you think about– Especially post COVID, as you hire lots of new people, how do you create the right culture at Crate and Barrel? How do you do that training and how do you reinforce it? I’m sure it’s been particularly challenging last year when you guys went through crazy growth and lots of new people and you probably have not met most, anyone who’s joined in the last 12 months. How are you doing that? How do you think about training, onboarding and recruiting culture?
Kate: Yes. It is particularly challenging, and it has been a bit of a brain teaser this year as not only are we thinking about onboarding, but we also onboarded 600 new people in four months last year. When you’re [crosstalk]
Joseph: Are there all over the place, by the way, now?
Kate: Completely all over the place. We planned support hubs in Vegas and North Carolina because we have a manufacturing team in North Carolina as a center there, but we planned those hubs, but then we added a little group in Texas. Then we decided we would use the store population to help support us in the really hard times of COVID. Then the store population really liked working for us. They wanted to stay permanent. Now we have more than 30% of our associates are outside of our home base in Chicago and that number literally grows every day.
Joseph: That’s amazing.
Kate: It changes your whole frame, your onboarding has to change, how you onboard an associate, how you get to know an associate has to change, how your supervisor engages with an associate has to change. We really started the culture shift with the supervisor and there were supervisors who embraced this and were really good at it and there were supervisors who couldn’t get their head around not seeing their team and not being able to walk over and stand next to them.
We had to create virtual ways for them to walk over and stand next to them so that they could have that feeling and see that engagement. We completely changed the supervisor role in the last six months, and we said, “Your only job is to own your team, their performance, their engagement, their attrition, their– Just their growth in general. How your team performs, that is your job, that is your end-to-end total job, period.” That’s what they do.
They have Gchat, one of the managers is doing March Madness and every week is a different growth metric. This week is adherence and how we get better at adherence. I think next week is concurrency and they proceed. The supervisor that wins the bracket moves on to the next bracket. They’re getting really creative with it.
We also didn’t want to get away from product because we do have this mindset of being a profit center versus a cost center and we’re focused on revenue generation. We didn’t want to get away from feeling close to the product. When we were in our contact center, I could have a showroom and I could change it seasonally.
You could go sit on our sofa and you could eat from our dishes and use our flatware and use our coffee maker, but you can’t do that when you’re at home. We created a contest. It’s not even a contest because it rolls forever. It’s a culture shift really. It’s a focus so that those that get the top five-star ratings for the month, the top five-star winners each month get the option of a Crate branded gift card to use in any Crate CB2 Hudson Grace any of our stores. On the condition that they use it to buy a product that they then make a product video to share with the whole center to teach them why they love it, how they used it, what was great about it?
We’ve built up this archive of videos from all our associates and they get really creative with the filming. We’ve got stop motion fanciness happening. It’s super fun but it all comes back to that product and using the product and making sure that the product is really accessible to our teams.
Joseph: Most teams have that dedicated product training team and here that’s such a creative idea which is like how do you get your team to create the content? This idea of user generated content. We see it all the time in the consumer world.
Kate: It’s associate generated content.
Joseph: Yes. That’s a great idea actually and then they get to share and it actually scales.
Kate: We started sending it to our marketing team. I don’t know if you want to use these but I’ve got some UCG for you. Our UGC.
Joseph: That’s awesome. [chuckles] That’s great. Just continuing on the revenue generation front, you told me you have gone through this transformation around messaging, that there’s two things in particular that you share with me. One is the volume and the mix. Then the second is actually how messaging is driving revenue. I’d love to touch on both of those topics which was when we first met, now it was a couple of years ago.
Kate: Which is crazy.
Joseph: Where did all that time go? I don’t know exactly what your numbers were, but it was primarily you did a lot of voice. You did some email, and you did some chat. How has that changed over the last 12 months?
Kate: Overall over the last 12 months our contact volume is up about 260%-
Joseph: But who’s counting.
Kate: But who’s counting. To put that in context of an average week contact volume would have been 34,000 contacts. Last week we were at 124,000. It is emphasis the quiet time because here we are in March. This is off peak for us. What was super interesting about that is we launched a text as a test initially prior to holiday of 2019 but we launched it for real which as a test we were getting like 35 texts a week.
Then when we launched it in April, I think, that it skyrocketed. SMS has officially replaced voice as our number one channel. It is the preferred channel of our customer. We try to move them out of text. I was in there the other day. I’m sorry. Thank you, at a voice. Gladly has a liveboard where you can watch everything. My team gets really upset because I obsessively the live boards. I sit and watch it. Then I gchat everyone in the universe when I see something.
When you go into the liveboards you can click into agents and you can read texts and chats all real-time. I do that again obsessively. I was reading one the other day and there was a person in a text and she’s like, “It’d be way easier let me call you,” and she was like, “No, I only want to text. I’m busy. I’m out. I only want to text.” You can’t even get them to call.
I always laugh because I used to say I was one of those holdouts like people aren’t going to buy a sofa online. You’re not going to buy a sofa you haven’t sat in. They’ll buy them over text. They’ll buy them anyway. It doesn’t faze them at all. They just text is easy. It’s easy and it’s friendly and we have to get good at it, it’s huge.
Joseph: I think that SMS is like this underrepresented channel, I’ll call it, because it doesn’t really have an owner. Like social messaging is important and all the other messaging platforms but there’s like a brand behind it that owns it and so there’s so much conversation about that, but SMS really like the lingua franca. Everybody has it now and it is way easier. It’s something that can be asynchronous yet, you people are really good at it and your adoption story it’s just off the charts. It’s been amazing to see actually.
Kate: It does take practice. It takes practice to do it personably, like to transfer the whole persona into a text takes practice and takes learning. There was a curve there but once we got it, we allow our associates to be much more casual over texts which is more comfortable for everyone. Once we got it, now everyone it’s how we work.
Joseph: That’s amazing. The dirty little secret is obviously how bad email is as a channel. Like because it’s not very efficient, people feel like they have to write these really formal missives like you have to make it punctuated perfectly and we’re on text. It’s like, “Oops I made a typo,” everyone’s okay with that.
Kate: We literally have people text back, “Cool.” It is cool. That’s cool. Like that’s fine. It’s all good. I know I don’t have to tell you why I love it but that’s one of the benefits is that you can start in one and move to another. If one is working for the transaction, you’re having then you stand in and if it’s not working you move. You can shift if it starts in an email, but the phone number is there, you can text them back out.
Joseph: You also were one of the early adopters of voicemail. I was actually on a call yesterday with a customer.
Kate: Yes, because you made me.
Joseph: [laughs] When you say we mad you, I mean-
Kate: That sounds like, okay, you were so forward thinking.
Joseph: No, you were. You were. You really were. You don’t have to tell the other part of the story. [laughs]
Kate: I will totally happily say that I joined voicemail kicking and screaming. We had auto call back as a function. We didn’t know how else to handle the volume. As we were considering Gladly and we were choosing Gladly, auto callback was not part of the offering. I said I can’t do it. I believe you through many partners on your team told me that I should try it before I say no. We did, we launched with voicemail and I don’t think I even asked for auto call back after that, hugely successful.
From our launch time, so we went live with voice in July of last year not much going on and when we went live with voice because of voicemail and because the other feature that we are in love with is the fact that you can go to SMS. We could push one to send a text instead of holding from the IVR which is amazing.
Between the push one for SMS and the IVR and the voicemail option, between those two we went from over an hour wait at our worst in the summer to immediately 25 minutes. Then within weeks down to 10 minutes because of those functions.
Joseph: You didn’t add more stuff or anything.
Kate: Nothing changed other than that.
Joseph: You are an innovator.
Kate: No, I just listened to you. I had no other choice. I innovated out of necessity.
Joseph: You actually do have an innovation and a growth mindset, I will say. We work with a lot of companies and we’re really happy and really proud to work with the companies we work with. You, in particular, you just have a different mind to like, let’s try stuff and you try stuff. Like payments, I think you’re the first customer to go live with payments over chat with us.
Kate: That was another big deal breaker for us. We really wanted payment.
Joseph: That’s obviously, I think, worked out really well. How do you think about innovation, with thinking about the context center? You just have this innovation let’s try stuff mindset and it’s awesome.
Joseph: Crate & Barrel has this mantra that I love which is that it’s ok to fail as long as you fail fast, and that mentality has helped them become a leader in contact center innovation today.
Kate: I think it’s a couple of things. I think one, it’s permission from my larger culture and organization to fail as long as you fail fast. Fail fast and learn and it helps I run a PMO. I know how to iterate. I know how to explore and change quickly. I think it’s really acknowledging that nothing has to be permanent. When we put something into place, we can change it. That’s how you learn. That’s how you grow. That’s how you adapt and adapt. We are not afraid to experiment and when you listen really hard and aren’t afraid of a little bit of failure, that you can be open to trying new things.
It’s interesting because like I said, I’ve only run the contact center for about two and a half years now.
Joseph: It’s been a big two and a half years.
Kate: It’s been a big two and a half years. During that time, we had to shift the internal culture to that as well because it was an organization that was a little stuck. It was a little stuck in its metrics and it was a little stuck in, this is how you do it. This is how we’ve always done it. This must be how you do it.
We did have to break some of that mold, even at the leadership level, and say, “No, it’s not. It’s not just how you do it. We don’t have to live with just because.” It gave us the opportunity to explore and try new things. Then you get a few wins, you see the IVR with the push one for a text, actually pull down, wait times and the whole team can breathe a little and they think, “Oh, what else can we try?” [crosstalk]
Joseph: [chuckles] Success breeds that culture.
Kate: It opens them up to like, “Oh, well that thing worked so what else could work?” You also have to listen to the feedback of the people, because if you make changes, one of the big changes we had is that we, when I did a big engagement survey when I first started in CS and I hired consultants and I said, “Tell me what I don’t know. I want to learn, what’s your biggest pain points? What does everybody hate?”
The number one most complained about thing was we have so many systems and I don’t know where to go to find anything and I can’t use anything. It’s hard as an associate, you’re making it hard for me. When you’re iterating and trying new things, exactly aligned to what the people have been asking you for, what the customer has been asking you for, you can get investment and why you’re doing it. They don’t feel like it’s just a new tool for a new tool stake. You can say, “This exact feedback is why I’m doing this. What do you think?” That’s a huge compelling tool as well.
Joseph: Comes back to selling.
Kate: It all does. You just got to sell it to your people.
Joseph: Tell me a little bit, like obviously going with Gladly was a big decision. There’s like the big legacy guys out there. Companies, I should say, not guys. Tell me about, you told me this once. If you don’t mind sharing, what was that first experience when you first connected with us, and then like, what was the process of why you went with us.
Kate: It’s funny because I wasn’t shopping for a new tool at the time in all candor.
Joseph: I did not know that
Kate: Yes, I wasn’t shopping. I wasn’t actually actively on the market, so to speak. I was at a conference, a CX conference, a customer service conference. I was walking by actually with one of the consultants I had hired and I was walking by all of the tables and I saw the screen with a use case of Gladly up. It was showing how I could see email and then I could see chat. Then Mike was demoing it to the group there.
I was like, “Wait a second. That’s all in one tool?” He’s like, “Yes.” I’m like, “Wait. You just shifted from text to voice and I can see both and I can playback that recording?” He was like, “Yes.” I was like, “That’s what my team in this engagement survey that I had literally just done.” I said, “That’s what my team is asking me for. That’s what they want. Like, that’s the usability that they want. We have all these silos and all these tools and you head over to chat and you’re only in chat. If somebody sent an email, then the email team sees it, the chat team didn’t see it. They don’t know you sent an email so we don’t seem connected. We don’t seem to know what our customer’s asking us for.”
I laughed and I was like, “This is amazing,” and Mike and I had some drinks and it was a great relationship from there. It really it speaks to usability you, I was amazing. You associate experience is amazing. It feels familiar. When you see it and you almost like, I didn’t believe at that moment in the conference, I didn’t believe that that was like a tool. I’m like, that’s like Facebook, what are you talking about? It was just fascinating to see up on a screen. No, I wasn’t shopping.
Joseph: That’s great. I didn’t know that part of the story, but it is amazing when we show it to people. They’re like, “Wait, this is how it should be.” I think that having this mindset or in service to your comments earlier, just because we’ve done something a certain way for literally decades and service where we say, think about tickets and cases and we silo all the things and it’s all about workflow and this idea that it’s about people and a single conversation between your customer and Crate, that’s the way it should be, because that’s how customers think about it. It’s always great to hear when people have that reaction that you had. That’s awesome.
Kate: That’s what it means to be a shopkeeper, it’s about what the customer is asking for and that exchange is what’s so, so important.
Joseph: 2020 was such a horrific year for so many people on so many fronts were challenged — jobs were lost, schools were closed, and most sadly, smany people lost their lives due to COVID. Let’s talk about how Crate & Barrel pivoted and adapted during this challenging time.
Kate: It was extremely challenging and for our store teams and while we were blessed in CS that we got busier. It’s not without acknowledgement of all the challenges elsewhere, and even the challenges that the busyness brought. The learning, what I can’t help but think as I look back on it is that last year was an amplification of the direction that the customer was already going. We just got there faster than we ever could have imagined.
The need for curbside the direction to do more virtual, what we call virtual exchange, but where we actually shop virtually, where you go to the store virtually, where you design your bedroom virtually, all of that was already in progress. It just accelerated, it just amplified to an unbelievable state that we wouldn’t have thought, it took all the risk aversion completely away. You just had to figure it out and do it. Things like curbside pickup in home design services over your iPhone, all that was already on our roadmap, we just had to figure out how to do it bigger and faster.
The learning there is that when you take away what you have deemed impossible, you realize what you can really do. We would have said, if you had asked me if I could have gone to 100% work at home in a day, I would have laughed at you, but we did it. It actually took us 48 hours, but that’s because we had to hand people some computer equipment and they had to drive it home. If you had told me we could stand up curbside pickup on our website in a day. If you told me I would have giggled.
Like, “Oh, sure you can, but you can.” It’s a shared goal. It’s everybody working together. It’s everybody focused on the customer, focused on what you need to do for that customer, focused on the associate what you need, the tools you need to give the associate, and then you turn it around. Curbside pickup is a big one, buy online pickup in store, and then curbside is a big one.
Our design services team who does in-home design for you actually uses Gladly chat now, so you can chat them. We have design appointments where you can virtually walk through their home via Zoom. We do all kinds of cool things that we never would have thought that you could do before.
The virtual onboarding. We shortened our training by a week. We did it all at home. We had to change the activities and how you onboard an associate differently. We literally looked at the onboarding experience and we were training email. Even after the launch of Gladly, we were training email and chat and SMS separately as three separate units. We said, “Forget this. We teach messaging. We turn them all on.”
We rewrote onboarding, we call it messaging now. We don’t talk about those as silos. We talk about messaging. You just have to be willing to change some of your vocabulary and look at things in a whole new way. As hard as it was and as challenging as it was, you do have to look at something that’s that hard and at least be grateful for the benefits that come out of it. In our case, the benefit was really adaptability and huge growth and learning that we are grateful for.
Joseph: There’s something about the expression. Necessity is the mother of all invention. It is a focusing thing where it’s just like, “We just got to do it. We got to figure out how we’re going to work from home in the next few days.”
Kate: It just is what it is.
Joseph: We don’t have a choice. Those kinds of transitions obviously it can feel very gut wrenching in the moment, but it is amazing the long-lasting impact. Your side of the story. Then there’s obviously all the data from last year, just about the consumer shift where it’s like e-commerce as a percentage of total retail sales. I don’t know exactly what the numbers are, but it’s something like 10 years of growth in six months. You’re chugging along.
Kate: I said we were super fortunate. We started it at about 50% of e-comm to retail ratio. That obviously has gone all the way up, well, past 70% at some points in the peak. It is leveling back out. Thank goodness we had that 50% bar, but it changes the way customers shop. Even the retail purchase starts online. You don’t go to a store if you haven’t looked online first because why would you make that trip. It’s a totally different customer way of thinking.
Joseph: Like many brands today, Crate & Barrel has undergone a huge shift where their online e-commerce experience is now their flagship store.
Joseph: You know retail better than I do, obviously. There’s this idea of that you’re flagship store. The flagship store is like the one on pick, whatever. I assume yours is in Chicago is my guess. I’m just guessing.
Kate:North & Clyborne.
Joseph: It’s beautiful. It’s like the perfect retail experience, but really digital is your flagship today and that’s a huge shift.
Kate: 100% and — Sorry.
Joseph: That’s okay. [laughs]
Kate: We are in fact the largest store. CS as a sales unit surpasses all other locations and then e-comm is the one larger than us. You do think online is the way to shop.
Joseph: Yes, that’s amazing. That is amazing. That’s incredible shift that’s happened.
Kate: Do you want a dog?
Joseph: [laughs] We’re going to use this by the way. What’s your dog’s name?
Kate: His name is Duke. There’s two of them, but the one you hear his name is Duke. He’s a big, he’s half lab and half Great Pyrenees, he’s a big boy and he’s loud.
Joseph: He just wants a little love and a little attention.
Kate: Yes, crazy.
Joseph: It’s all good. The name of the podcast is Radically Personal. One of the things I ask people all the time is, can you share something a little radically personal about you that we can publish? That you’re okay sharing if that makes sense, with thousands and thousands of people. Don’t get nervous or anything.
Kate: I know. I’m like, “I just told you about my dog.” I don’t often run around telling everybody I’ve only run customer service for two and a half years. That’s pretty new. That’s pretty radical, I guess. That probably would have been mine that I am new to this and come much more from a retail background.
Joseph: You’re being very modest. You’re saying you come from a retail background. You shared a story about your interaction with Gordon.
Kate: Gordon Segal was the founder of Crate & Barrel. Like I said, I’ve been with Crate for over 20 years and started in stores just literally working at the front counter. When I started, there were only 20-ish stores, 25 I think total.
Joseph: No e-commerce back then.
Kate: No e-commerce. E-commerce was new. Frankly, furniture for us was pretty new at the time. We were an entertaining brand. Furniture was very separate, separate stores. The two did not mix. There was a furniture store and a houseware store. Gordon as the founder, I was fortunate enough to really grow up in my career underneath a huge entrepreneurial spirited presence.
He was a great learning experience. You would get in your memo box– Because that’s what you got; you got a memo box. In your memo box. When I was the store manager, my first store was in Baltimore. When I was the store manager, my memo box would come, and on your budget sheet, on your P&L, there would be handwritten notes from Gordon with circles on there like, “Katie, watch your payroll. What are you doing?” Or “Your sales are down. Why are your sales down?”
When I ran Old Orchard here in Chicago, I was at corporate for a meeting, and I was standing across the salad bar from him at corporate. He was literally yelling at me across the salad bar like, “Katie, what is with the Old Orchard sales? What’s happening there? You’ve got to get those people out talking to the customers.” I’m like, “Gordon, I’m working on it. I’m working on it.” He was an inspirational presence. You don’t work for a man like that and not carry some of that urgency, and that customer awareness, and that entrepreneurial spirit with you. That is definitely personal for sure.
Joseph: Mentorship and culture and stories like that, they just have a huge impact on you, which is great.
Kate: We have a great new leadership at the organization, Janet and Kevin, but that entrepreneurial spirit is one that has never left the culture of the company and it’s carried out today.
Joseph: You mentioned Kevin. I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time with Kevin as well. To your point, I think one of the keys to what you’ve been able to do, I have seen the support that they give to you.
Kate: 100%. I can’t stress that enough. The customer is truly at the center of everything that we do as an organization. Kevin Sierks is the COO and my direct leader, that’s the first question he will ask is, “Well, what does the customer think? What does the customer say? What does the customer want us to do?” That’s how we decision-make, that’s how Janet pushes us to decision-making.
Therefore, it puts customer service and customer experience at a larger seat at the table overall and it gives you the resources and the permission to really explore how we can get better and what more we can and should do overall.
Joseph: Thank you for being an amazing partner to Gladly and friend, and for always being willing to try, new, innovative things to improve the customer experience.
I can speak for everyone at Gladly when I say we are so proud to be your partner in delivering on Crate & Barrel’s impeccable customer service that consumers love.
I’m Joseph Ansanelli, CEO of Gladly.
If you enjoyed the episode, please be sure to subscribe on Apple or Spotify, or visit us at radicallypersonal.com. We’ll see you next time.
Thanks for listening. This is Radically Personal.